Canada's role in OSIRIS-REx
Canada has a unique opportunity to showcase its technical and scientific expertise as part of NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission.
The Canadian Space Agency (CSA)'s contribution to the mission is the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA), a laser system able to scan the asteroid from up to seven kilometres away. The CSA also supports:
- scientists and engineers on OLA's development and operations team
- scientists from Canadian institutions who are part of the broader OSIRIS-REx science team
Meet OLA and the experts behind Canadian OSIRIS-REx research.
In exchange for contributing the OLA instrument, Canada will receive a portion of the pristine asteroid sample.
A Canadian institution will soon be selected to curate the sample, ensuring its safekeeping and enabling Canadian scientific research.
OLA: OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter
The sophisticated laser instrument OLA will map asteroid Bennu. It is designed to:
- scan and measure the surface of the asteroid
- create a highly accurate 3D model
- provide scientists with detailed information about Bennu's shape, distribution of boulders, craters, slopes, and other surface features
- help researchers and mission planners select the best location from which to gather a sample of the asteroid
How OLA works
OLA will be the most sophisticated scanning lidar to ever be used in space. It works by:
- firing short pulses of laser light toward the asteroid
- precisely measuring the time between when those pulses of light are fired, and when they bounce off Bennu's surface and are recaptured by the sensor
While orbiting Bennu, OLA will use two lasers:
- its high-energy laser, for scanning from 1 km to 7.5 km above the asteroid
- its low-energy laser, for rapid imaging 225 m to 1 km above the asteroid
Scientists will use OLA's 3D map to narrow down potential sample areas on asteroid Bennu. OLA data will help answer the following questions:
- Can OSIRIS-REx access the site?
- Can the spacecraft operate at the site without being damaged?
- Is there enough loose surface material to collect?
- What scientific questions can be answered by sampling at this location?
OSIRIS-REx: a far-out opportunity for Canadian experts
OLA development and operations team
OLA was built for the CSA by MDA, a business unit of Maxar, with significant contributions from subcontractor Optech.
This instrument is a hybrid of two other MDA technologies: the lidar on the CSA's weather station aboard the Phoenix Mars Lander, and an instrument flown on the US Air Force eXperimental Satellite System-11 (XSS-11).
OLA's lead instrument scientist is Dr. Michael Daly of York University, an expert on lidar technology and former member of the Canadian Phoenix Mars Lander team. He is assisted by:
- Dr. Catherine Johnson, University of British Columbia
- Dr. Jeff Seabrook, York University
- Dr. Olivier Barnouin, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory
These scientists work together with instrument support engineers from MDA to plan science observations, operate OLA and ensure the health of the instrument. The CSA manages overall OLA operations.
For decades, scientists have studied meteorite fragments recovered on Canadian soil and elsewhere. But when meteors enter our atmosphere, they are exposed to extreme temperatures that bake away some of the key clues scientists have long searched for.
Analyzing the pristine sample returned by OSIRIS-REx could revolutionize our understanding of the solar system's history, how our planet formed, and possibly the origin of water and life on Earth.
Scientists from Canadian institutions
Researchers from around the country were selected to perform investigations that will help unravel Bennu's physical, chemical, and geological mysteries. These teams, which are part of the broader OSIRIS-REx mission, are led by:
- Dr. Edward Cloutis, University of Winnipeg
- Dr. Rebecca Ghent, University of Toronto
- Dr. Alan Hildebrand, University of Calgary
- Dr. Kim Tait, Royal Ontario Museum
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